Steyning Town Football can announce today, with a whole range of mixed emotions, that club captain Alex Gathern has decided to retire from competitive football with immediate effect.
At our recent trip to Eastbourne Town two of our players clashed heads late in the game resulting in an injury to one and a more serious injury to the other. Austin Okolo attended hospital and was stitched up and thankfully recovered well but Alex suffered a head injury which required a hospital stay for several days, surgery and an expected long recovery. This is the third time that Alex has suffered a head injury and as a result and after taking medical and family advice has decided to retire from playing football. This is a decision the club fully supports. He has the rest of his life ahead of him and his health and wellbeing has to come first.
Club chairman Ian Nichols summed up the clubs feelings by saying “ We have been so very fortunate to have Alex, supported by his wife Julia and the rest of the family, as our captain. A tremendous character, local lad, a great influence on and off the pitch, and a thoroughly all-round top bloke. I will miss watching Alex play but am confident that he will still very much be involved around the club in the future. I wish him all the best in his recovery”.
Gathers came up through the ranks as a player and captained our U18 side before captaining the first team for the first time at the tender age of 18 years old. A talented ball playing centre back he was always at the centre of every game, consistently putting in quality performances over a number of seasons. In 2015 Alex left the club and went to play at a number of other Sussex club culminating in playing in the Isthmian league. In 2018 we were thrilled to welcome him back to the club for a second spell where he again led by example captaining the club back to the SCFL Premier division for the first time in over 30 years and lifting the Division 1 cup, after a memorable performance.
His presence at the club and in the team is enormous, whether playing in defence or midfield, opponents always knew he was there. He had that great mix of being able to put in a thumping tackle or win a 50:50 coupled with being graceful on the ball as well. His ability to read the game was excellent. A real crowd favourite, especially being a local lad, he will be immensely hard to replace in many ways. It is always tinged with disappointment when a player is forced to retire however we are sure Alex has a lot to offer the game, he has a blossoming career, and recently married to Julia he has his best years ahead of him.
It will be strange to watch the Barrowmen without Alex leading the team out but we wish Gathers all the best and thank him for everything he has done for the club. A true club legend who has given us some great memories we savour.
The club would also like to place on record their thanks to Eastbourne Town club physio, Vicki, and our own Paul Hawkins for their excellent support at the time of the incident.
Alex himself has given the below statement:-
“After the latest head injury, which required an operation under general anaesthetic, I’ve made the tough decision to retire early from playing football.
I always thought I’d be playing well into my thirties, or forties, and never thought I’d be retired at 28. However, after suffering my third major blow to the head from collisions playing football, I feel I don’t have any choice. I’ve spoken with the medical professionals, and taken their comments and advice on board, this time. They had suggested limiting the risk by playing in a position where I don’t head a ball, but it’s not in my DNA to play half heartedly.
First and foremost, I want to say a huge thank you to Eastbourne Town FC’s physio, Vicki, for her assistance and treatment until the paramedics turned up to take me to hospital. I honestly can’t thank you enough for your incredible act of kindness to a complete stranger.
Also, the same thank you applies to Paul Hawkins for everything you did until the paramedics turned up as well.
In addition, a massive thank you to all the NHS staff at Eastbourne Hospital for caring me for during my short stay.
Finally, thank you to my wife Julia, family and friends who have and continue to care for me whilst I’ve been home.
Concussion, and also post-concussion syndrome, is something that effects me quite badly, and has previously lasted in one way or another for months after an incident or injury. Not only does it affect me, but it also affects those around me.
If you haven’t heard of post-concussion syndrome, I’d recommend doing some research on it, as it’s possible you, or someone you know, has suffered from it in the past unknowingly.
It’s been a horrible decision to make, but one that will hopefully mean by taking action now, I can see my wife, family, nephews, friends, friends’ children and, hopefully, my own future children grow up and I can be an active part of their lives. Yes, I may not have another head injury if I continue playing, but I’ve had three now and I’m not willing to take the risk anymore. I’m not a 20 year old single kid like the first time it happened. I have other commitments and people to think about. If I had three big injuries to any other part of my body, I’d retire, so this needs to be treated the same. My Dad retired from playing rugby because of a head injury, which tells me it must run in the family.
I retire from Steyning with plenty of fond memories though, and having met many great people in the game from different clubs, loads of which I’m still in contact with and consider a friend. I have played for many clubs over the years, but I was captain at Steyning when I was 17/18, so it gives me some comfort to finish locally and where it all began. The club has made lots of improvements and changed hugely over the years but the core family values and atmosphere still stay the same. I look forward to hearing and seeing how the journey will continue for Steyning in many different areas. Thank you to all the volunteers that make each game happen and do so much behind the scenes.
What I’ll do with my spare time moving forward, who knows! I haven’t thought that far ahead yet! Spending more time with Julia, holidays and travelling, having some weekends back and eventually, I would like to give back to society in some way are things I look forward to. I want to be able to make a positive impact on peoples lives, and retirement from football might give me that extra bit of time to do so.
For now, I am going to focus on recovering from my operation and concussion.
Finally, thank you to all that have already sent messages of support to myself, Julia and my family. Thank you to the committee and management team at Steyning Town CFC, who have been incredibly supportive of my decision, and to the players and supporters that I’ll miss seeing each week.”